It is easy to pass over these familiar words, but I invite you to stop and linger for a moment. The landscape that greeted Noah and his family upon their exit from the ark was very different from the one they left. Everything they knew from before was gone. There were no friends, no towns, no roads, no merchants, no goods … nothing. The earth around them had been scoured by floodwaters and here they were, alone and isolated.
Noah’s first response is worship. (Build the altar.)
This is the first time the word altar is used in Scripture. Now we know from Cain and Abel that worship, or at least sacrifices had been going on, but here the altar is highlighted. In chapter 6 Noah built the ark. In chapter 8, Noah built an altar. I suspect there is some effort behind that simple statement. Like gathering the stones, for instance. How far did he have to walk to find them? Yes, they were on a mountain, but had the flood washed away all the ones small enough to carry? Did he have to dig them out? And what about trees? Were there any trees left for the wood? Did he have to hack off a piece of the ark? How long did it take to get everything arranged?
Worship required effort. (Build the altar.)
Every clean animal and every clean bird. In chapter 7, God said to take seven of each of the clean animals aboard the ark. There were only seven in the world and here, Noah sacrificed one. He didn’t wait until a sufficient flock or herd had built up. He willingly offering to God what was, in real terms, very costly.
Worship is costly. (Build the altar.)
I had a tremendous opportunity to guide the study and discussion at a small retreat a few weeks ago. This was the first passage we considered. We posed a series of questions. How are you like Noah? Have you ever followed God, not quite knowing what you were in for, only to be dropped in an unfamiliar, maybe even hostile place? Was your first response worship or self-preservation? How effort goes into your worship? What does your worship cost?
You see, Moses wrote this account because there were things that Jehovah wanted His people to know about Him and how to approach Him. It is preserved to teach us as well. Considering Noah, I confess, worship is rarely my first response, and when I do worship, it is often cheap and lazy. So I’m sure it’s a far cry from the sweet-smelling savor in verse 21.
Right now, the most costly thing I could offer is time. I have none to spare. I am overbooked times three. But this morning, I got up early so I could have some quiet. Not reading. Not studying. Not planning or trying to organize what needed to be done. Just quiet. Waiting. Listening.
This season as we celebrate the God who not only preserves us through the flood but who became flesh and dwelled among us, I encourage you to make the effort, bear the cost of quiet moments with Jesus. I encourage you to build the altar.